There’s nothing quite like a big transfer deal to get the hearts of supporters and journalists alike racing and following a quiet few weeks at the City Calling Stadium, Longford Town FC have finally made some headlines with the loan addition of striker Josh O’Hanlon from AFC Bournemouth.
The 20-year-old, a popular figure in the Midlands during his first spell at the club in 2013, has been farmed out on a temporary basis to some none too exotic locations such as Poole Town during his near two-year spell with Premier League Bournemouth and despite the fact other English clubs were interested in borrowing the services of O’Hanlon, he has opted to return to familiar surroundings.
Rather than going on loan in England, I thought it would be good for me to come home for a while and help me restore some confidence and start to enjoy my football again.
Making 22 appearances in his first spell with ‘De Town’ at the age of just 17, O’Hanlon’s talent was instantly recognised as he scored seven goals for the club prior to a reported €50,000 move to the Vitality Stadium.
However, with Eddie Howe’s side leading the way in the Championship at the time the Irish striker has found in impossible to break into the first-team set up, leaving reserve football and loan spells as his only playing option. Injuries soon started to take their toll and as mentioned by O’Hanlon above, confidence started to take a nose dive bringing the Dubliner to this decision on a move back to Longford.
The decision to come back to Ireland and play for Longford was something that I thought about over the last couple of months. There’s no special reason behind it, just the fact that I had a bit of a confidence knock due to an accumulation of small injuries which weren’t allowing me to get a good run of games.
That lack of match action had lead to typical online rumours that perhaps O’Hanlon had been shown the door by the English club, rumours the striker was quick to rubbish on social media.
I am still contracted to Bournemouth for another 18 months, the decision to come back here was my decision and it was not forced on me whatsoever.
It’s only been two years since O’Hanlon went across the water, but while Tony Cousins has remained as manager as well as former strike partner David O’Sullivan, the division and opposition has changed for ‘Town’ with promotion secured in 2014. Speaking about these factors, O’Hanlon stated:
Of course the gaffer still being here helps, and Tony played a big part in me coming back here, it was a bit of a no brainer really. I maybe could have went to a different team in the league where I’d be completely new to everyone, or I could go back to Longford where the manager is familiar with me and vice versa and also to still have the likes of Davy (O’Sullivan) and a few of the other lads there it will help me settle back in and hopefully soon it will feel as if I never left.
O’Hanlon went on to speak about lining out against the top clubs in the land over the next six months and when asked if he felt he had unfinished business with the club having left before their successful title winning campaign of 2013 his response was this:
I wouldn’t say unfinished business, I feel as though I done what I need to do in the league in order to get a move across the water but I’m definitely looking forward to playing against some of the top clubs this time round in a much harder league. It will be a great experience for me personally and I can’t wait for the season to kick off now!
When a young Irish player moves to England only to come ‘home’ shortly afterwards, questions of standard and how the League of Ireland truly stacks up against the lower tiers of the English game are always asked and O’Hanlon was happy to field enquiries in this regard:
I personally would say the standard in the League of Ireland is better than most of the teams I went on loan to. If I didn’t think that I’d benefit from coming home to play in the league again I wouldn’t do it, at the end of the day I’m still trying to make myself a better player. I’m not just coming home for a holiday and have a six month break, I’m still fully focused on making myself a better player and getting to where I want to be.
In the club’s official press release announcing the signing of O’Hanlon, Longford Town boss Cousins was quick to praise Eddie Howe for helping facilitate the deal. When asked about his experiences under one of the hottest young managerial prospects in the game so far, O’Hanlon spoke of Howe’s honest character which has made him so popular within the English game:
I worked under Eddie for the first six months I was at Bournemouth and then when I came back after the summer I started off the season with the under-21s and have been training under Stephen Purches since then. Eddie is obviously a great manager, it’s not hard to tell after what he has done in the last few years with Bournemouth. I think what you see on the TV is a true reflection of who he is, just a hard working man who wants the best for the club.
With the English football season well underway, many may be forgiven for thinking O’Hanlon is miles ahead in terms of a pre-season schedule but the Dubliner explains why he feels a strong pre-season back in Ireland is crucial if he is to succeed this season:
I’m just coming off the back of a little knock I picked up that left me out of training for around two weeks leading up to Christmas. I feel like I’m prepared just as much as I can be but even if I am lacking some fitness that’s what pre-season is for anyway, I’m sure we will all be fully prepared by the end of it anyway that’s for sure!
Pre-season is not only a time for fitness, mental and tactical preparation ahead of a new footballing campaign but it is also a time most players set themselves targets or have challenges laid down by their coaches. However, O’Hanlon is keen not to impose pressure on himself and just enjoy the game in 2016:
I haven’t set myself any real target or put any pressure on myself whatsoever. Obviously I’ll be looking to do well and improve on my last spell in the league but I’m mainly going to just enjoy it and hopefully play with a smile on my face because that’s what it’s all about!
Should O’Hanlon manage to rediscover his scoring form it won’t just be the Bournemouth loanee with a smile on his face, but the loyal followers of Longford Town FC and in his final statement O’Hanlon was quick to mention the clubs supporters:
It’s always great to see the fans welcoming me back, it means a lot to me and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of those for the nice messages. The fans were also another reason as to why it was an easy decision to come back to Longford.
With the pre-season schedule now under way for the Midlanders, O’Hanlons non-competitive ‘second debut’ could come in the home tie with recently relegated Limerick FC at City Calling Stadium at the start of next month.
However, it will be all eyes and focus towards the March 4th trip to Ferrycarrig Park on the opening day of the 2016 League of Ireland season as Wexford Youths start life in the Premier Division against Tony Cousins’ Longford.
Having lost Gary Shaw to Shamrock Rovers in the off-season, fellow Dubliner Cousins will be hoping the arrival of O’Hanlon along with striker Lee Duffy from Drogheda United can help fill the void left by Shaw as ‘De Town’ look to improve on their fantastic sixth place finish in last season’s Airtricity League campaign, their first top flight season since 2007.